Tu B’Shvat -Wisdom From Trees

Posted on January 27, 2021

by Rabbi Alex Freedman

Trees provide us with so much: oxygen, shade, fruit, and metaphors.

One of my all-time favorite teachings centers around trees:

The Talmud (Taanit 23a) shares a short story:

One day [Honi the circle maker] was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree. Honi said to him: “How many years does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” 

The man said to him: “70 years.” 

Honi said to him: “Is it clear to you that you will live 70 years [and benefit from this tree? Why are you planting this if you will not be around to see it in full bloom?]”

He said to [Honi]: “I found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.

Honi sat and ate bread. Sleep overcame him and he slept. A cliff formed around him, and he disappeared from sight and slept for 70 years. When he awoke, he saw a certain man gathering carobs from that tree. Honi said to him: “Are you the one who planted this tree?” 

The man said to him: “I am his grandson.” 

I am captivated by the image of planting: One seed – when planted – can yield an entire tree, which can grow and produce more seeds to become an entire grove. Just like one person can become the top of a family tree with countless branches.

I love that the anonymous man appreciated that the resources around him were provided by others. He woke up on third base and did not think he hit a triple.

I am moved by the man’s reflex of responsibility. Though nobody tells him to, he intuits that he has an obligation to others he cannot even see.

I am touched that the man’s grandson finds himself in the very same place where his grandfather once planted. The very one to benefit from the grandfather’s tree is not a stranger but family.

May we – grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren all – enjoy the fruit of previous generations, and may we plant more for those who follow us.